Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Search Engine Optimization Works

SEO Overview
screenshot by HowStuffWorks 2008

Experts in search engine optimization can tell you the steps you need to take in order to be one of the top entries on a SERP. In our example, you've already provided the most important component of SEO: excellent content. Without strong content, SEO tips and tricks will provide a temporary boost in your site's ranking at best.

In an ideal World Wide Web, your site would rise to the top of every search engine's skydiving SERP based on content alone. While it's possible for your site to take the No. 1 SERP spot on its own, it could take months or even longer. Even worse, there's no guarantee your skydiving site will ever make it as high as the first page of search results.

For some webmasters, site traffic isn't that big a deal -- their sites might be a personal project. But for anyone who uses the Web as a way to make money, it's crucial. Whether the webmaster makes money by selling products on the site or through hosting Web advertisements, more visitors translates into more money. That's why some large companies are willing to spend money on SEO consultants -- they can be a worthy investment if the company's site is ranked higher than competitor sites.

SEO techniques rely on how search engines work. Some are legitimate methods that are a great way to let search engines know your Web page exists. Other techniques aren't good ways to get noticed and might involve exploiting a search engine so that it gives the page a higher ranking. Sometimes it's tough to tell if an approach is legitimate. If it seems a little questionable, it's probably a bad idea.

Let's take a look at the ways you can get a better spot on SERPs without getting into hot water with search engines. In the SEO business, these approaches are called white hat techniques. Read all about them on the next page.